Yanmar is launching two tractors with autonomous features in Japan this month, the Auto Tractor (YT488A/498A/4104A/5113A) and the Robot Tractor (YT488A/498A/4104A/5113A). The philosophy behind the Robot range is that it offers completely unmanned operation, while the Auto Tractors offer minimal operator input. Both rely on Yanmar’s unique Information and Communications Technology (ICT), which combines advances in industrial robotics with precise positioning data.
Control is undertaken via a waterproof, ruggedized 10in tablet that allows one person to operate two tractors. The display uses clear icons and illustrations to navigate around the system, designing the routes, estimating the work area and using the tracking function, which also provides useful information for farm managers.
The positioning is based on RTK-GNSS (real-time kinematic global navigation satellite systems), which can utilize two signals from multiple GNSS. An additional base station helps to provide positioning information with pinpoint accuracy.
This accuracy offers additional benefits from a management perspective. “As well as keeping costs down, we know farmers are constantly striving to improve the quality of their crops,” says Yanmar’s Dana van Kammen. “The ability to essentially remove human error by straightening out plowed furrows, for example, can lead to better soil consistency, promoting more even growing conditions. Also the first pass is difficult for novices, and marking a route with poles is hardly an accurate solution.”
With the Robot series, great thought has gone into ensuring safety is a priority. “We tested these things relentlessly to perfect the system,” Van Kammen explains. “We wanted users to have peace of mind, knowing that the tablet can easily signal an emergency stop, and that there are sensors and extra lights dotted all over the machine. Because we knew it was going to be unmanned we didn’t compromise on safety.”
Common to both model ranges, the autonomous ‘Auto’ mode offers remote control in the simple functions of forward, reverse, turn and stop. With ‘Linear’ mode the tractor can travel back and forth on its own, with the option of allowing turning to be performed by hand. This has been designed to offer more flexibility, with a degree of customization. It helps more inexperienced users as well as catering to varying levels of difficulty with the terrain.
The philosophy behind the new range is to address the various challenges that have faced the agricultural industry in recent years, such as the necessity of large-scale management of aggregated farm land (bigger farms need more management), as well as the twin challenges of an ageing labor force and fewer young workers joining the work force.